NAIROBI, Kenya—Clement Ibrahim Muhibitabo is one of the forgotten ones.
So is Ines Chine. So is Abdul Hamid Moosa.
The snatch-and-jail operation was carried out by U.S. allies Kenya and Ethiopia but involved CIA and FBI interrogators, say European diplomats, human-rights groups and the program's many detainees.
It may be little-known to the American public, yet it has stoked deep anti-U.S. sentiment among Muslims in the Horn of Africa.
That fury may even have contributed to the bloody election crisis in Kenya that first erupted last December and killed 1,300 people. Muslim human-rights groups and political analysts in Kenya say the renditions helped incite the nation's Muslims to vote en bloc against a pro-American president and set the stage for an explosive, razor-close election.
While the operation netted a handful of hard-core Islamist militants who were training at jihadist camps in Somalia—an American among them—the vast majority of the detainees have been released without charges.
Many were held for months at "black site" secret prisons in Ethiopia. Today they have scattered across Africa and the world, their stories overshadowed by the more famous detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"You know what was strange? They only interrogated me twice," the Rwandan, Muhibitabo, recalled of the American agents who showed up in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to grill him about Al Qaeda. "It was like I was unimportant to them. Like I was a mistake. A mistake that took away four months of my life."
Like most of the people ensnared in a security affair known locally as "Africa's Guantanamo," Muhibitabo, a gem trader, was arrested after fleeing to Kenya from Somalia in January 2007.
With covert U.S. support, Ethiopia had just toppled a radical Islamist movement in Somalia. And jittery authorities in neighboring Kenya, advised by CIA and FBI agents, were screening the tide of refugees streaming across their border for militants.
At least 150 suspects from more than 18 countries ended up being shunted into Kenyan jails, says Human Rights Watch, an international humanitarian group. More than 100 were later loaded, handcuffed and blindfolded, onto chartered airliners and flown secretly to Ethiopia for months of further questioning.
"We had no access to lawyers, no contact with embassies, no phone calls," said Moosa, 42, a South African accountant who says he traveled to Somalia to look into the possibility of charity work for the country's Islamic movement.
"I was kept in solitary for a month, shackled ankle and feet, night and day," said Moosa, who spent almost five months in Ethiopian custody. "The Ethiopians would come collect me, blindfold me and drive me to some apartment in Addis. And the Americans would be there waiting behind a desk, asking me over and over about my terrorist connections."
Kenya and Ethiopia—both Christian-dominated countries—have longtime security concerns with their anarchic neighbor, Muslim Somalia. For its part, the U.S. has accused Somalia's Islamists of hosting top Al Qaeda operatives such as Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a mastermind of the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa.
The most high-profile case to emerge from the clandestine African renditions was Mohammed Abdul Malik, a Kenyan accused of participating in the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa in 2002. Abdul Malik was caught after fleeing from Somalia. Deemed too important for jail in Ethiopia, he was secretly expelled to Guantanamo Bay.
"The police handed him over to the Americans without giving him a single hour in a court," said Mariam Mohammed, the suspect's sister. "We still don't know the evidence against him."
How much Washington actually steered the sprawling arrest and deportation operation—a covert counterterrorism sweep second in scope only to the deportation of more than 200 terror suspects out of Afghanistan immediately after the fall of the Taliban—remains unclear.
The Bush administration declared that it had abandoned its own secret prison program the year before, in 2006.